The Many Science Factions

Posted on 25th June 2009 by Ryan Somma in Enlightenment Warrior

For better or worse, it is the nature of intellectuals to be independent in thought and action. Since the Enlightenment, when coffee-fueled intellectual discussions kicked off an age of accelerating advances in science and technology, academics and geeks have slowly fragmented from being united under the big tent of rationality into tribes that are less effective as political and cultural influences. While America is seeing the influence of science and rationality wane in general, those who subscribe to scientific thought grow more fractionalized.

It all started with The Enlightenment1, that period of time around about 1600 to 1900, when reason overcame religion as the dominant authority in public life. America’s founders were scholars of the Enlightenment, as is anyone who believes in science and rationality. Many of America’s founders were also Deists, believing in god(s), but that the supernatural thing(s) did not interfere with human life and that our purpose can be determined purely through the study of the natural world.

This principle of relying strictly on the observable, measurable, and reproducible aspects of the world to define reality comes out most strongly in the philosophy of empiricism, with all scientists being empiricists, asserting that our only source of knowledge in life is experience. This is different from naturalism, which does not appear to rule out other ways of knowing, but also emphasizes understanding through observations of the natural world. At the empirical extreme is scientism2, which maintains that the absolute best means of understanding reality is through science.

This shared emphasis on observable reality as the best means to find truth is what gives way to principle of political Secularism, which prohibits factoring supernatural speculations into the reasoning behind public policies. In theological dimensions, scientifically minded people express these values in atheism, the belief that there is no supernatural force behind the natural world or influencing human life, and agnosticism, which takes no stance on religious possibilities at all. More recently has emerged the concept of ionian enchantment, which focuses on the sense of wonder that comes from understanding the unification of the sciences, and spiritual naturalism, which is similar to agnosticism, but takes the position that we should actively rejoice in the natural world.

In the realm of ethics, the loss of religion is seen in traditional thought as leaving us bereft of a reason for moral living. In response, Humanism, the philosophy of being good to one another for its own sake, emerged. Secular Humanism was a response to Humanism, because of the many branches that were emerging specific to different religions, such as Christian or Jewish Humanism. The American Humanist Association represents the secular branch of this philosophy.

There are the many other variations on these themes. Ockhamism, based on Ockham’s Razor, Pastafarianism, from the cult of the Flying Spaghetti Monster–a satire on other religious faiths, and Skepticism, which focuses on disproving religious systems of belief and modern-day pseudo-science. This does not take into account the many divisions between realms of scientific inquiry, like biology, chemistry, physics, and others at the top, each with their own highly-specialized sub-domains, like microbiology, organic chemistry, and quantum physics, with terminology so specialized that even the branches of the sciences are having difficulty communicating with each other.

Then there are the myriad organizations attempting to represent these innumerable communities. Originally the Federation of American Scientists was prominent, with the very important primary goal of monitoring the world’s nuclear capabilities. The Union of Concerned Scientists takes a more generalist approach, including many environmental and scientific integrity lobbying efforts. While my new favorite Science Debate 2008 has become a powerful active political force, with the basic goal of bring science into public political discourse.

Despite the differences between all of the above listed organizations, philosophical and ontological schools of thought, and attitudes with which they approach reality, we all subscribe to a testable and rational understanding of the Cosmos. We believe in education, human improvability, and that arguments derived from our shared, observable reality should shape public policy. Because of the complex nature of reality, there will always be quibbles and differing understandings of what opinions we develop from it. These quibbles build walls between the sciences and but also make their members stronger in their specializations and more effective within their domains.

1 Actually, it all started with Greek philosophy, but all that died out in the Dark Ages.

2 Not to be confused with the pejorative Scientific imperialism.


  1. Church Of The SubGenius does a far better job satirizing religions than wafer-thin Pastafarianism ;)

    TRIBE WAR!!!

    Comment by ClintJCL — June 27, 2009 @ 6:22 pm

  2. […] definition, independent thinkers are an individualistic bunch. Over 20 secular and atheist organizations were present at the rally, each with their own flavor of […]

    Pingback by "Atheist" Label's What I Don't Believe Instead of What I Do Believe | — June 7, 2013 @ 12:13 am

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